Thomas B. Shea
An impressive bounce back win gives the Texans a little breathing room
A week after an embarrassing loss to a desperate Packers team, the desperate Texans dealt an embarrassing loss to the Baltimore Ravens. This game was supposed to be a battle between the two best teams in the AFC, if that was the case, then the Texans are way ahead of the rest of the conference. Some will try to dismiss this victory because of the Ravens injuries, but I don't agree with that notion. The Ravens had all of their key offensive players on the field and the Texans dominated them for 60 minutes. On defense, sure Ray Lewis was injured, but if we're being honest, he was playing poorly even when healthy and their once feared defense had already taken several steps back. Through seven games, the Ravens have given up over 400 yards of offense three times this season. They gave up over 400 yards only three times all season last year including the playoffs (16 games), and only twice in 2010 including the playoffs (16 games); this isn't your older brother's Baltimore Ravens.
The Texans outclassed the Ravens in every aspect of the game, sending a message to the rest of the league that the road to the Super Bowl will go through Houston. With the win, the Texans hold a lead of two games or more on every other team in the AFC, almost certainly meaning they'll get to rest during the first round of the playoffs in January.
Arian Foster had one of his best games of the season averaging over five yards a carry for only the second time (Jets game) this season. Even back up running backs Ben Tate and Justin Forsett ran it well, averaging nearly five yards (4.93) a carry on sixteen carries in relief duty. Matt Schaub was efficient completing 62% of his passes for 256 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, Owen Daniels, and even Garrett Graham were wide open all day and each made some difficult catches on the few bad passes Schaub threw. I got the feeling watching the game the Texans could have put up 60 if they wanted to, but the game was in hand by halftime. I still don't think the Texans have played as well as they're capable of on offense this season, but they were close to it on Sunday. If they can repeat this level of play for the rest of the season, I don't see how other teams will stop them.
I asked on Friday in my preview article which Joe Flacco would be on the field Sunday; the road version that I wrote about showed up and threw more bounce passes than NBA point guards. Joey football was pressured all day, missed open receivers, and had a miserable game. Flacco completed under 50% of his passes, threw two interceptions to just one touchdown, and finished with a QB rating under 50. The Texans defense had almost a perfect game. Ravens receivers were blanketed most of the game, they had one of their best days rushing the passer even without J.J. Watt getting a sack, and players not named Watt even batted a few passes at the line of scrimmage. I still have some concerns over their run defense, but that's just a small bit of nitpicking of an otherwise great performance. Ray Rice averaged 5.2 yards per carry during the first half, but because the game got out of hand, the Ravens had to abandon the run. In the playoffs, in a close game, can they stop the run? Can they get the ball back when trailing another good team when they're trying to run the clock out? I think so, but I'm not confident on that specific issue.
Special Teams: A-
Shayne Graham made all his kicks once again, like he has practically all season. Yesterday Graham made all five of his extra point attempts and both field goal attempts; both inside of 40 yards. For the season Graham has made 13 of 14 field goal attempts and all of his extra point attempts. I'm still not confident he can hit a 53 yard kick in windy conditions, but he's been reliable so far. Punter Donnie Jones averaged 48 yards on his kicks and had two downed inside the 20, including one that led to the safety that swung the momentum of the game. He's also been reliable so far this season.
Keshawn Martin didn't have any great returns but really didn't get much of a chance. The Ravens only kicked off four times (three scores, opening kickoff), and two were touchbacks while another was squibbed to linebacker Bryan Braman. He seems to have better quickness in space and more make you miss ability than Holliday. The former Texans return man has better straight line speed, but that speed was useless when he got tackled at the 10 yard line. I'm not sure when, but I believe Martin will return a kick or punt for a touchdown sometime this season.